THE Sun’s travel team has clocked up a fair few airmiles this year reviewing a host of exciting destinations across the globe.
From America’s Deep South to a galaxy far, far away there’s plenty to inspire anyone looking to book their next break.
Sun Travel Editor Lisa Minot and Deputy Travel Editor Jacob Lewis look back on their travels of the last 12 months – and they reveal the places they’re looking forward to exploring in 2020.
Mayan Riviera, Mexico
THE Mayan Riviera is increasingly popular with Brits keen on a Caribbean all-inclusive tropical escape. Unico 20°87° stunned me on a trip this year, delivering top-end food and drink as well as the chance to explore the surroundings all for one good-value price.
You can find all-inclusives for less money but for sheer value, I would say this is hard to beat.
Rooms feature either private swim-up pools or, for higher floors, a vast balcony complete with hot tub.
There is 24-hour room service but with six restaurants included in the price you will struggle to find time for it. Three pools with waiter service and golden sands mean it is tempting to fly and flop. But a range of excursions, including exploring the fascinating Mayan culture and a game of golf, are included in the price.
There is a premium feel to the whole place.
GO: MAYAN RIVIERA
Seven nights’ all-inclusive at the 5H Unico 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya is from £1,019pp including British Airways flights departing Gatwick on selected dates in September 2020. Book by January 30 at ba.com/mexico or call 0344 493 0120.
ANYONE who saw the Call The Midwife Christmas special will agree, the stunning Scottish scenery almost stole the show.
And my trip to the Highlands this autumn could not have been more perfect.
Based in a cute log cabin on the outskirts of Aviemore we had the perfect weekend break in the
Cairngorms National Park, with the boys trying their hand at fly-fishing while us girls got to sample the delights of the Whisky Trail and soaked up the late sunshine beside sparkling lochs and ancient forests.
The flight to Inverness was quick and easy and picking up a hire car a breeze – an essential as this is the perfect place for a fly-drive break, with jaw-dropping views around every corner.
Highlights included Loch An Eilein with its castle ruin island, perfect for a autumnal walk and the friendly, open welcome everywhere we went. Scotland truly has me in its thrall.
GO: SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
AMERICA’S Deep South opened up to Brits this year with the launch of a new direct route to the historic coastal city of Charleston, South Carolina.
And it didn’t take long for this Southern belle to captivate me with its charms.
Once the richest city in the US, its cobbled streets are lined with gorgeous heritage homes, from clapperboard colonials to smart brick mansions. The story of the enslaved West Africans who ensured its success is as fascinating as it is horrifying and their Gullah culture is another sparkling facet to this gem.
However, this is not a city defined by its past. Today it is thriving, a stylish and captivating city with world-class food and drink plus a host of independent, trendy boutiques.
It is the perfect start or finish for a fly-drive through a part of America we have glimpsed in everything from Gone With The Wind to Forrest Gump.
Be sure to leave time to visit the old plantations and their gardens, as well as the vast, stunning beaches of the surrounding lowlands.
Four nights’ room-only at the 3H Cambria Hotel Charleston Riverview is from 679pp including British Airways flights departing Heathrow on selected dates in September. Book by January 12 at ba.com or call 0344 493 0122.
THE island of Hvar and its ancient capital have turned a corner in the past year.
After a brief spell as the 18-30s party isle, the Croatian destination has had a family-friendly makeover, reminding us there is more than a fishbowl of cocktails on the menu.
And while the island hopes to attract more high-earners – the first 5-star Palace Elisabeth hotel opened this year – it hasn’t lost the laidback charm that draws in boat-loads of backpackers on a budget.
I spent a blissful week here sampling fresh seafood and well-priced local wine, experiencing untouched nature and enjoying picture-perfect old towns.
There was sea kayaking to secluded islands, an e-bike tour between vineyards and snorkelling at sunset.
For something unique, try dinner at Konoba Stori Komin, an organic restaurant in the abandoned village of Malo Grablje. Or rent a small motorboat for a DIY island-hopping adventure.
History buffs can soak up the island’s rich past as a Greek then Roman colony, an important Venetian port and a favoured royal holiday destination under the Austro-Hungarian crown.
When you have had your fill of fine wine, food and culture, those boisterous beach bars will be still waiting for you.
Seven nights’ half-board at the 4-star Amfora Hotel is from £1,032pp based on two sharing, including flights from Gatwick on June 5 and transfers. Find out more at tui.co.uk.
Tel Aviv, Israel
ISRAEL’S metropolis on the Med has developed a reputation as one of the world’s coolest nightlife destinations.
Not a brand to miss the party, Virgin Atlantic launched daily flights from Heathrow in October.
I touched down on one of its first flights for a weekend of bohemian beach life, fantastic food and 24-hour parties.
Chill with a cocktail at the La La Land beach restaurant or learn to “hang ten” at Waves Surf School. The old port city of Jaffa offers artistan shops and galleries.
For wraparound views, try Haiku Skybar on the 18th floor of the Lighthouse Hotel. And Jerusalem is just 30 minutes away by train.
GO: TEL AVIV
Four nights’ B&B at the Gilgal Hotel Tel Aviv, including flights is from £634pp. See virginholidays.co.uk.
Black Spire Outpost
THE largest new land in any Disney park ever, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge offers unique thrills.
I was in Disneyland California for the May launch and it didn’t disappoint.
Hack droids and data towers with your iPhone and encounter Imperial Stormtroopers. On Millennium Falcon:
Smugglers Run, you play one of six would-be smugglers. . . although teamwork often becomes a shouting match.
An identical land has opened at Disney World Orlando, so 2020 is a great time to travel to a galaxy far, far away.
GO: BLACK SPIRE OUTPOST
Seven nights’ room-only at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort is from £1,024pp, including Virgin Atlantic Gatwick flights on March 18, car hire and a 14-day Ultimate Ticket. See virginholidays.com or call 0344 557 3859.
Car app is key to rentals
Use the Virtuo rental car app from £35 a day.
USE your smartphone as a key to unlock premium cars in Manchester, Edinburgh, London and 14 other cities overseas.
Choose from a Fiat 500X, BMW X1, Mercedes A-Class and Mercedes GLA. Then escape to the countryside or embark on a spontaneous road trip while abroad from just £35 a day.
The app, which just had a design refresh, is ridiculously easy to use and booking takes only a few steps. Before setting off, simply log any damage not listed in the app and head on your way.
Unlocking the car with your phone is slick and simple. Petrol levels and miles driven on the virtual key keep track of your journey.
Virtuo cars can be picked up at more than 50 city centre locations and around a dozen airports in Europe. Glitches do need ironing out. Six or more points on your licence? The app will let you book but abruptly cancel (often last minute) after your DVLA check. Virtuo says it is working on making the T&Cs clearer.
Lisa’s 2020 wish list
SEEING SAO PAULO: I have not explored much of South America, so the launch of Virgin Atlantic’s new direct route to Sao Paolo is one I am looking forward to. I will be stepping on board in April. Sao Paolo may not have Rio’s incredible beaches but the heart of the country’s financial centre offers so much more than its skyscrapers. A thriving 24/7 clubbing scene, cool bars and innovative restaurants make it a fantastic alternative city break.
CRUISING IN GREECE: This may not sound revolutionary but with so much of Greece still not ticked off my wish list, a five-night cruise with Greek specialist Celestyal Cruises has piqued my interest. The line’s mid-size ships are not the jazziest on the market but its ability to call at smaller, less crowded ports and included excursion plans mean I will get the chance to explore more for less.
SWAP those fairy lights for the bright lights of Vegas, as Virgin Atlantic launches its winter sale.
Fares are discounted across the airline’s entire network, with economy prices from just £235pp return and holiday packages from £369pp.
There are even reduced fares on Virgin’s new-for-2020 Sao Paulo route. Tickets on the airline’s new Gatwick to New York service, which takes off in March, are also marked down.
Offers include return economy fares to LA from £287pp, Boston from as low as £235pp and Upper Class tickets from £1,491pp.
As for flights-and-hotel deals, why not pop across the Pond with three nights’ room-only at The New Yorker, A Wyndham Hotel, from £892pp based on two sharing, including Heathrow flights on February 2?
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Deals of the Day
Cheap last minute holidays, cruise deals, city breaks,family holiday deals
Book a Disneyland Paris break from just £199pp in Boxing Day sale
Norwegian launch Boxing Day sale with flights to Orlando and New York under £145
Try your luck with four nights, room only, at the Circus Circus Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas from £400pp based on two sharing including flights departing Heathrow on February 2.
Or meet Mickey with seven nights, room only, at the Baymont Inn & Suites in Orlando from £499pp based on two sharing including flights departing Gatwick on March 4.
You can find out more and book over at virginatlantic.com.
Jacob’s 2020 wish list
SEATTLE’S NATURAL WONDERS: I will be taking my first trip to America’s Pacific Northwest. Surrounded by water, mountains and forests, Seattle is the gateway to the stunning natural wonders of the state of Washington. Budget carrier Norwegian resumes its seasonal route to the Emerald City on March 31, with fares from just £184.90 one-way. There has never been a better time to visit.
FOLLOW BOND TO MATERA: Having just seen the trailer for 007’s latest outing, No Time To Die, I would love to meet the star of the show. No, not Daniel Craig or Lea Seydoux. I mean the tiny southern Italian city of Matera. It is the setting for an adrenaline-fuelled car chase in the film but tourists usually visit here for something more sedate and stay in boutique cave hotels carved into the mountainside.